Notes on Till We Have Faces
Inspiration, publication, and insight
Lewis had the idea very early; writes in his diary,
September, 9 1923: "My head was very full of my old idea of a poem
on my own version of the Cupid and Psyche story in which Psyche's sister
would not be jealous, but unable to see anything but moors when Psyche
showed her the palace. I have tried it twice before, once in couplet and
once in ballad form."
It was written during 1955 and ready in typescript
by beginning of February, 1956, and was originally entitled Bareface.
Lewis said: "In one sense the author has
worked on this book most of his life, for this re-interpretation of an
old story (readers need not know which when they begin) had lived with
him and pestered him to make it ever since he was an undergraduate. Suddenly,
last Spring , the form presented itself. All came into focus: and
had drawn into it many sympathies that had found no vehicle in earlier
books--for the ugly woman, the barbarous idolator, the humane sceptic,
and (above all) the friends and lovers of those who have a vocation or
even a faith."
Lewis' own thoughts on what the book "means":
An author doesn't necessarily understand
the meaning of his own story better than anyone else, so I give my account
of Till we have Faces simply for what it is worth. The 'levels'
I am conscious of are these:
A work of (supposed) historical imagination. A guess of what it might have been like in a little barbarous state on the borders of the Hellenistic world of Greek culture, just beginning to affect it. Hence the change from the old priest (of a very normal fertility mother-goddess) to Arnom; Stoic allegorizations of the myths standing to the original cult rather as Modernism to Christianity (but this is a parallel, not an allegory). Much that you take as allegory was intended solely as realisitic detail. The wagon men are nomads from the steppes. The children made mud pies not for symbolic purposes but because children do. The Pillar Room is simply a room. The Fox is such an educated Greek slave as you might find at a barbarous courst--and so on.
Psyche is an instance of the anima naturaliter Christiana making the best of the Pagan religion she is brought up in and thus being guided (but always 'under the cloud', always in terms of her own imaginations or that of her people) towards the true God. She is in some ways like Christ because every good man or woman is like Christ. What else could they be like? But of course my interest is primarily Orual.
Orual is (not a symbol) but an instance, a 'case' of human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession. What such love particularly cannot stand is to see the beloved passing into a sphere where it cannot follow. All this I hoped would stand as a mere story in its own right. But--
Of course I had always in mind its close parallel to what is probably happening at this moment in at least five families in your home town. Someone becomes a Christian, or in a family nominally Christian already, does something like becoming a missionary or entering a religious order. The others suffer a sense of outrage. What they love is being taken from them. The boy must be mad. And the conceit of him! Or: is there something in it after all? Let's hope it is only a phase! If only he had listened to his natural advisers. Oh come back, come back, be sensible, be the dear son we used to know! Now I, as a Christian, have a good deal of sympathy with those jealous, suffering, puzzled people (for they do suffer, and out of their suffering much of the bitterness against religion arises). I believe the thing is common. There is very nearly a touch of it in Luke II. 38, 'Son, why hast thou so dealt with us?' And is the reply easy for a loving heart to bear?
(letter to Clyde Kilby, February
10, 1957; in LL, 273-74).
Trom, king of Glome
Here is a very comprehensive bibliography on Till We Have Faces.